America's VetDogs Program Comes to Second Hagerstown Prison


HAGERSTOWN, Md. - Puppies and prisoners are not exactly a combination you would expect but at the Maryland Correctional Training Center, it is a match that is meant to be.

MCTC has become the fourth training center in the state to adopt the America’s VetDogs program.

A handful of inmates are selected to train services dogs for about a year. They are then given to a veteran in need.

"It’s about the pup and where he's going to go. To a disabled veteran," said inmate and service dog trainer William Austin, who is also a veteran. “Me being a veteran, I feel so wonderful of giving back"

Inmates at this prison received three Labrador puppies last month named Spot, Junior, and Skipper. They do just about everything with their trainers.

"[Junior is] with me 24 hours a day,” said inmate and service dog trainer Charles Hursey. “He sleeps in my cell, I bathe him, I take care of him, I feed him."

That 24-hour attention within the institutionalized environment is why the program boasts an 85 percent graduation rate for service dogs. That is about 25 percent higher than the success rate of puppies trained elsewhere.

"Service dogs usually take six months to train. Prison pups will come into our kennel, and they were training up in half the time: three months," said Sheila O’Brien, adding that the prison program helps veterans who usually have to wait four years to get a service dog through other programs. "Our veterans are in need. We have over 50,000 that have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan severely wounded.”

Inmates also say the dogs have changed their lives.

"They’re so energetic,” said Austin. “It makes me feel that spirit of energy too. To forget all about [my] little room."

"I’m giving back to the veterans and the community to show that I can change and I can help someone,” said Hursey.

The trainers at MCTC also donated about $400 of their own money to the VetDogs program.

America’s VetDogs is looking for volunteers to take puppies home on weekends. They want to make the dogs accustomed to life outside prison walls before they go off to their permanent owners.

If you are interested in becoming a weekend puppy raiser, click here.

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